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Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China, March 2010 (Elvin Wyly). Hong Kong is one of the world’s most highly urbanized societies, and one of the wealthiest. Yet urbanization does not always deliver prosperity: more than a billion of the world’s urban people live in severe poverty in the slums of fast-growing “megacities.”

Contemporary Urbanization and Global City-Systems Urban Studies 200, Cities September 29, 2012 Elvin Wyly A World of Urbanization ...In Wealthy Countries (the Global North) The history of truly urbanized society is quite recent. Although there were many fairly large cities throughout the world by the end of the eighteenth century, 1 “It was not until about the turn of the twentieth century that the first urbanized society came into existence. At that time, Great In 1800, twenty-nine of the world’s 100 largest cities were in Europe, while sixty-four were in Asia; sixty-five of the one hundred largest worldwide exceeded populations of 100,000. Peking, China (Beijing), was the only millionaire city in 1800, but fifty years later it was joined by London and Paris. By 1900 there were sixteen millionaire cities, most of them in Western Europe and North America. United Nations (1996). An Urbanizing World: Global Report on Human Settlements, 1996. Oxford: Oxford University Press / United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. 1

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Britain became the first society in history whose urban population exceeded its rural population.”2 This is a key distinction: urbanization refers to the process by which a rising share of a society’s population lives in cities. Growing cities are not necessarily a sign of urbanization, and indeed there have been many periods when city growth was simply a product of overall population growth. But the century or so since 1900 has been a dramatic era of urbanization: “industrialized nations in Europe and North America have passed through a recognizable pattern of urbanization: an Sshaped curve, beginning slowly, moving sharply upward, then leveling off. In rural preindustrial societies, urbanization proceeds slowly. Then, if the society experiences an industrial revolution, it shoots up. At the most advanced stages, it tends to level off.”3 This process -- the urban transition -- suggests an important linkage between cities, development, and improvements in living standards. Overall, the urban share of population for the world’s more developed regions is more than 75 percent, and is projected to increase at a comparatively modest rate over the coming years, to approximately 84 percent by 2025. 4 ...In Poor Countries (the Global South)

Urbanization is the increase in the share of a society’s population that lives in cities. The urban transition: an S-shaped growth curve showing the urbanization process over time.

A wide variety of terms has been used to characterize and categorize the world’s poorer societies: a few of these terms include emerging, developing, underdeveloped, less developed, backward, modernizing, the Third World, and the Global South. Each of these terms has its own histories and connotations. But there is no question that urbanization today is a phenomenon of the world’s comparatively poor countries. The annual urban population growth rate of the poorest countries (classified according to one United Nations development criterion) is 4.6 percent, more than seven times the growth rate of urban populations in wealthy, industrialized countries. 56 In 1950, 60 percent of the world’s urban E. Barbara Phillips (1996). City Lights: Urban-Suburban Life in the Global Society, Second Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 98. 3 Phillips, City Lights, Second Edition, p. 99. 4 Michael Pacione (2001). Urban Geography: A Global Perspective. New York: Routledge, p. 70. 5 United Nations (2002). State of the World’s Cities, 2002. New York: United Nations Center for Human Settlements. 6 It’s certainly worth a few minutes of your time to study a few of the many...
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